Strengthening WASH systems in Cambodia: An interview with WaterAid’s Programme Manager and Provincial Coordinator

Strengthening WASH systems in Cambodia: An interview with WaterAid’s Programme Manager and Provincial Coordinator

Strengthening WASH systems in Cambodia: An interview with WaterAid’s Programme Manager and Provincial Coordinator 1022 768 Agenda for Change

Government staff from the Provincial Department of Rural Development discuss the establishment of a District WASH committee in Boribo district (WaterAid/ Sotheanin)

Background: WaterAid has been working in Cambodia since 2014. They are working with the Royal Government of Cambodia and partners to achieve sustainable, equitable and universal access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) by 2025 and beyond. Their strategic focus is building strong WASH systems with skilled professionals and engaged leaders, with a focus on marginalized groups, mothers and children, and water security and climate resilience. Below is a summary of an interview with their WASH Programme Manager and Provincial Coordinator.

To find out more about WaterAid’s WASH system strengthening work, read their latest global learning report, featuring case study examples from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Uganda. The report was produced as part of WaterAid’s SusWASH Programme, a five-year initiative (2017-2022) funded by the H&M Foundation.

Alec Shannon (AS), Content Strategist, Agenda for Change: Tell me about the history of WASH services in Cambodia. How is your work different now than 5 years ago?

Phat Phom (PP), Provincial Coordinator, WaterAid Cambodia: If we look back to the approaches of WASH service improvement in the last five years, we observed a lot of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government working on more traditional approaches (e.g., awareness raising or promotion, providing infrastructure, and working directly with beneficiaries). Back then, NGOs did not work collectively, they focused only on their target area and population. There was no sustainability of WASH infrastructure because the government system was not strong, and they did not perform their roles and responsibilities.

Sokkung Sou (SS), Programme Manager, WaterAid Cambodia: Access to WASH services was a major challenge in some provinces in Cambodia, especially for people living in rural areas. To respond to these low rates of access, WaterAid worked together with the government, private sector, and social leaders to demonstrate new approaches for equitable, inclusive, and sustainable WASH service delivery. We also applied WaterAid’s system strengthening approach to drive progress on WASH through a collaborative approach with national and local government focused on building capacity and leadership for the ongoing delivery and sustainability of WASH services.

AS: What parts of the WASH system are you strengthening (e.g., which building blocks)?

SS and PP: WaterAid’s approach includes supporting government-led collective action; identifying and promoting government champions; cultivating a sector culture of continuous learning; and building institutional capacity. Due to our multi-pronged approach, our work touches on all the WASH systems building blocks, and focuses on interactions and overlap between building blocks.

AS: How are you working with the government (national and/or local)?

SS and PP: We build capacities of government staff by arranging exchange learning visits, peer to peer learning, WASH skills training, and other necessary trainings. We work closely with government staff to provide technical advice for planning and coordinating with other WASH actors to mobilize resources and to implement activities. We also work with the media to show the commitment and willingness of the government for WASH service improvement. In addition, we champion the local government leaders to show accountability and good leadership to achieve the uptake of latrines in their communities.

AS: Are you working with other civil society or private sector actors to strengthen systems? If so, who?

SS and PP: We are working with a range of NGO actors to share understanding and joint efforts including local NGOs, private sector, and consulting companies. Locally, we work with WaterSHED[1] to facilitate and lead the Civic Champions Program and with WaterSHED Ventures; we work with Plan International and the Cambodian Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Project to improve sector coordination, planning, financing and monitoring; and we work with the local NGO Teuk Saat 1001 to provide technical support for water quality monitoring and testing. WaterAid also partnered with Sevea consulting company and with the Cambodian Water Supply Association[2] on water quality, service improvement, and increasing accountability among water service providers.

AS: Tell me about next steps.

PP: Our strategy is to support the Government of Cambodia to achieve its strategic plan by 2025, which ensures universal WASH services. For the strategy goal to be met, six provinces must be declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ by 2023. Among these provinces, Kampong Chhnang is our target area, and we will be strongly supporting the provincial and district governments to achieve their goal.

SS and PP: We will continue to strengthen government leadership to increase budget allocations for WASH services nationwide (ongoing costs), improve WASH data for decision-making, increase responsiveness of service providers, and advocate for leadership of women in the WASH sector.

AS: Any advice for those who are starting their systems strengthening approach?

PP: You need committed and powerful leaders from the top to influence the changes – in particular, momentum from the global leaders to prioritize WASH, and from the donors to push government towards systems approaches.

SS: WASH system strengthening requires a diverse team of individuals who are skilled at working across practice and policy related issues simultaneously. Additionally, collective action for strengthening the WASH system requires that national and local actors, across government, NGOs, and private sector, work together to achieve a common understanding of the challenges faced and to develop a unified response.

[1] WaterSHED is also an Agenda for Change member.
[2] The Cambodian Water Supply Association aims to create and enable an environment of collaboration and learning among private water operators and national and international stakeholders and is comprised of 223 private water operators throughout Cambodia.

Mr. Phom Phat is the provincial coordinator of WaterAid Cambodia, based in Kampong Chhnang. He has been working with government and other WASH sectors actors for over three years.

Mr. Sokkung Sou has over 10 years WASH programming experience. Sokkung is a leader in the WASH sector in Cambodia, and has built strong, credible relations with senior leadership within the Ministry of Rural Development and the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation. Sokkung currently manages WaterAid’s Sector Strengthening Program, a multi-million-dollar program across five provinces in Cambodia. The program has garnered significant attention across the sector in Cambodia, resulting in multiple additional funds being attracted from several donors.

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